In the months leading up to the highly anticipated release of In The Heights, you couldn’t miss Warner Bros.’s vigorous marketing campaign. Having been delayed due to (everyone say it now) Covid, the film looked certain to be a smash hit at the theaters and on HBO Max streaming. Only cinema-goers instead turned to horror offerings, like A Quiet Place 2, and only made $11.5M in its first week domestically.
This massive film is as dazzling as it is hindered by its own pacing. Director Jon M. Chu, known for his extravagant rom-com Crazy Rich Asians, is truly a visionary, as seen in large dance numbers that sprawl across New York City streets and public swimming pools. Yet the film version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony award-winning musical, co-written for the screen by Quiara Alegría Hudes, dulls when musical numbers drag on the proceedings into its 145-minute runtime.
In The Heights is primarily focused on Usnavi (Anthony Ramos, already appearing everywhere), an immigrant orphan from the Dominican Republic who has an opportunity to build a business in paradise. Orbiting his world in New York’s Latino community, Washington Heights, are aspiring fashion designer Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), gossip-loving salon ladies Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega), Carla (Stephanie Beatriz), and Cuca (Dascha Polanco), and adorable limo driver Benny (Corey Hawkins). It’s a Summer about love, loss, and extreme heat as each character finds their way to their version of success.
The film is at its best when the actors can talk to each other and build momentum for each of their stories. This is also very musical, musical. The songs haven’t been reduced, and the temptation to fast forward through never-ending harmonies might not be a glowing recommendation, but In The Heights is a spectacle worthy of a cinema trip.
It may not have set the box office on fire, but this film is about life’s abrupt challenges and opportunities. With a vibrancy that soars above the New York skyline, there’s plenty to enjoy